Southern Ragtime

A sort of heavy metal protest song. Words and music (such as it is) by David Harley. I always meant to launch a band called The Grating Deaf for which this would be the opening number, but I never got round to it. When I used to perform this with Rick Brandon, he used to introduce it as “Well, I feel just like a waitress but where will I get one at this time of night…”

Just an acoustic guitar with an electric guitar overdubbed. The full version will probably be completely electric and hopefully much tighter!.

Backup:

Copyright David Harley 1986

I feel just like a waitress dropping 16 antique china plates (x2)
And no-one laughing but some juggler who never made the grade

I’m a poor wayfaring stranger, a stranger at this end of town (x2)
I never knew how far I’d travelled till the vigilantes rode me down

And it’s dog eat dog when no-one can raise the price of beef (x2)
No-one bites harder than an old man with a brand new set of second-hand teeth

I’m a poor wayfaring stranger, a stranger at this end of town (x2)
I never knew that I was winning till some loser tried to slow me down

If your axe catch fire and there ain’t no water to be found (x2)
You’ll never know you’re hot till some turkey tries to damp you down

It’s front-page news, paranoia on the inside lane (x2)
They might even take your picture
But they’re setting you up and knocking you down
They’re fitting you up for the frame

 

South Wind

Also known as Southwind, The Southern Breeze, An Ghaoth Andheas, and so on. Has also attracted quite a few sets of words. Recently crossed my radar when working up some material with a ceilidh band, and I couldn’t resist trying it out. I may well vary the instrumentation for the ‘real’ version, but I quite like it with just guitar (though I’ve overdubbed here).

Sometimes attributed to O’Carolan, but I don’t believe there’s any proof of that, though Greg Clare tells me that it’s often performed along with Planxty Fanny Power (which I believe is O’Carolan) or Planxty Irwin (which is on my to-do list). The Fiddler’s Companion attributes it to Domnhall Meirgeach Mac Con Mara (Freckled Donal Macnamara) and includes Gaelic words and translation as well as much more information.

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David Harley

Stranger in Uniform

Words and music (c) David Harley

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video:

Audio capture/master:

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Antique electric version:

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Quiet days / Slow march past of the minutes
Remorseless progression / of the hours
The sun burns out / in a mock tropic sky
The sands run down / and time holds its breath

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
To shatter the mirror-still days

Quiet days / counting falling leaves
Stripping petals / from a scrap of bush
Nights under the trees / hiding from the world
Singing wild songs / to a gypsy moon

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
To shatter the cut-crystal days

Quiet days / sunrise leaps from tree to tree
A small boy with a fishing rod / re-lives jam-jar days
Ripples smooth away / the wrinkled image
Waiting for history / to rewrite the page

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
to shatter the diamond-cut days

Quiet country days / in a honeymoon paradise
Raindrops / dancing tiptoe on the glass
Clouds hang heavy / as time and history
Hiding in each other / in autumn 1939

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
To shatter the looking glass days

 

Staffordshire hornpipe

I find myself in an unusual position. (Steady! Not that sort of position.) I’ve played guitar and/or bass with ceilidh bands from time to time since the 1970s, but have never rehearsed with one until recently.

Which got me thinking that one or two tunes might fit quite nicely into a recording project I’m hatching. This is a sketch only for one possibility. It includes far too many guitars (probably one part would be a bass with just one second guitar to put in some sparse countermelodies) and the actual tune gets buried at some points: it’s just that this has some bits I wanted to keep for reference. I believe the tune was originally recorded in 1909 by Cecil Sharp from John Locke in Leominster. This interpretation is based on a vaguely-remembered recording from the 60s by Jon and Mike Raven. I think this was the record (with Jean Ward): SONGS OF THE BLACK COUNTRY AND THE WEST MIDLANDS.

I’m tempted to buy it, but then I’d have to learn the tune properly. 😉

Mastered:

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David Harley

 

Seventeen-year itch (Harley)

At the time I wrote this, even being forty didn’t seem something I needed to identify with: all the other stuff seemed far, far away. So not too many biographical clues here. 🙂 In fact, I used to precede it with ‘Love Hurts’ so that you had two diversely miserable love stories together: however, I don’t think I could get away with singing ‘I’m young, I know…’ these days.

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An older version with solo electric guitar.

Backup

Words and Music by David Harley, copyright 1986

Front tyre blew
Tax overdue
Picked up
A parking fine or two

Gas bill trouble
Rent is doubled
You say
“NOW what’s wrong with you?”

Dentures slipping
Nervous twitch
17-year-itch

I’m underpaid and overweight
So let’s go and celebrate

Who said life begins at 40?

Kids are listening
Separate beds
Bitter thoughts
In separate heads

Kids are screaming
Dogs are howling
Milk gone bad
We’re out of bread

So I leer at typists
Wonder which
Might scratch
My seventeen year itch

I must have wasted
So much time
The other side
Of 39

Monday morning
Bus queue blues
MOT
Overdue

My head is bursting
My eyes need testing
Sorry
That I snapped at you

Sorry
Sorry
Always saying sorry
Always praying
There might be some peace sometime
The other side of 65
But would it be so hard to be
Another aging divorcee?

 

David Harley

 

Scratch one lover (revisited)

Words & Music (c) David Harley

1980s studio version (2nd guitar is Don MacLeod)

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A couple of more recent versions here. 

How does it feel to be proved right
When everything just fell apart?
Does it buy you sleep through long cold nights?
Does it ease your aching heart?

Score two points, scratch one lover:
You said it’s too good to be true.
Why don’t you run back to your mother?
She always knows what’s best for you.

 

All those black moods and jealousies,
Now you know they were justified.
She looks so happy, holding hands with someone else:
Was it worth it, being right?

Hold on to all that righteous anger
But don’t forget who set it up for her.
If she’s easier in someone else’s arms,
She might be telling you you were unfair.

Score two points, scratch one lover:
Let it ride, it’s just the gypsy’s curse.
But people tend to give you what you ask for:
Maybe you only got what you deserved

Raggle Taggle Man

Words by Alison Pittaway: tune traditional, adapted and arranged by David Harley. All rights reserved.

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He was a raggle taggle man
In raggle taggle clothes
Reaching, reaching for the stars
As he wandered down the road

Once the world was at his feet
But then it fell apart
His friends becoming strangers
Who left him in the dark

His world was all in pieces
That he couldn’t shape at last
While the wind was blowing
Through the weeds and grass

People tried to reassure him
But still he lost all hope
And looking at his life
He knew he couldn’t cope

So home alone he went alone
And all alone he died
But everyone who knew him
Now remembers him with pride
He was so beautiful inside.

Oh raggle taggle, raggle taggle, raggle taggle man
Oh raggle taggle, raggle taggle, raggle taggle man…

Alison and I (among others) ran a folk club in London (at Jacksons Lane Community Centre, Highgate) for a while, and later on lived in the same part of Tottenham for several years. It’s only recently – when we haven’t met face-to-face in decades and now live in different counties – that we’ve started to collaborate on songs, though.

The tune is a variation on a tune that Jean Ritchie used to sing as ‘False Sir John’. I don’t know why, it just seemed to fit the words.

Adventures in Video – Vestopol

 

audio capture:

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Vestapol (even the name has variant spellings, almost as many as the tune) has a fascinating (if slightly confusing) history. Henry Worrall (1825-1902), an artist and musician who taught guitar at the Ohio Female College, composed a guitar piece apparently inspired by the siege of Sebastopol (1854-1855) and sometimes called ‘The Siege of Sebastopol’ or ‘Sebastopol: Descriptive Fantasie’, or – according to the printout of the sheet music I have in front of me – just ‘Sebastopol’.

Sadly, I can’t read music – well, maybe if it’s simple enough that I can play it on recorder, but that’s about as far as I can go, so I don’t know how close that piece is to the tune I’m interpreting in this video. Compared to this version, played by Macyn Taylor on parlour guitar, not very. That said, this version, played by Brian Baggett “interpreted from the original manuscript…in collaboration with the Kansas Historical Society” is just about close enough to suggest that my version does derive ultimately from the older piece. As does the resemblance of the naming of the later piece, and, even more, the fact that both pieces use the same open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) tuning, often referred to by blues musicians as ‘Vestapol’ or ‘Vastapol’ (or similar) tuning.

It’s worth noting at this point that Worrall also published an arrangement of a popular piece called ‘Spanish Fandango’ – which, though it’s not without charm, to my ear resembles a ‘real’ fandango rather less than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ resembles the work of Václav Tomášek – which uses an open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). While I’m not aware that Worrall’s ‘Fandango’ has had anything like the same popularity or influence among blues/ragtime/folk musicians that ‘Sevastopol’ has, it’s notable that this open G tuning is often referred to as ‘fandango’ tuning. And certainly Elizabeth Cotton, who also played ‘Vestapol’, had a very similar tune called ‘Spanish Flang Dang’.

But – returning to ‘Vestapol’ – how did a formal piece apparently intended for the genteel parlours of the US get to my genteel home office/recording studio in the Wild West of Cornwall as a blues-y, train-y, ragtime-ish, clawhammer picking piece?

Stefan Grossman, who put together a three-part video to teach his own version, kind of skates over the issue as barely explainable, though a contributor to a thread on Mudcat points out perfectly reasonably that blacks and whites worked together and blacks worked as servants in the homes of white people: “They heard, they liked, they learned.” And adapted, making the work of other musicians into something of their own. So by the time John Fahey recorded the tune he still called ‘The Siege of Sevastopol’, it had developed into something significantly different Worrall’s tune, and acquired words – Robert Wilkins’s ‘Poor Boy (a long way from home) and ‘Prodigal Son’, later kidnapped by the Rolling Stones.

In fact, I sometimes follow Grossman’s lead in combining ‘Vestapol’ and ‘Poor Boy’ – he was the first person I heard do that, back in the late 60s or early 70s – or tack it onto the end of one of my own songs as with ‘Highway Fever’ here. Or ‘Castles and Kings‘, but not available as a recording right now.

However, on this occasion I decided to quit while I was ahead and just do the instrumental. And hope that it doesn’t measure up too badly to the many fine musicians who’ve taken their own shots at this well-worn but well-loved music.

David Harley

 

Birdlime

Words and music by David Harley, copyright 1973

This is a very young, very bitter song. I was actually playing with it in Garageband recently as a guitar piece, but the words came back to haunt me. I think I may change them, but  the arrangement has promise.

(Vocal is a bit ropey: heavy cold…)

Backup:

Miles of air is all I need
Jab on the starter and pick up speed
Stand back lady and watch me feed my heels

Got to get you out of my head
There’s new juice keeping my motor fed
From today I’m the fastest thing on wheels

You’re birdlime baby
And you should know
You’re bad news baby
Everywhere you go

David Harley